Any Columbo fans out there? I watched Dirk Benedict playing the role of the greatest lieutenant tonight at the theatre. I took to my seat with the dwindling hope the Faceman wouldn’t do any ‘Columbo shtick’… and Dirk proceeded to trot out ‘Columbo schtick’ (hey, we’re not sure whether it’s shtick or schtick!) turned up to eleven. To be fair he did it with some panache. You gotta give credit where credit’s due – How the hell do you play the character after Peter Falk owned the character? Peter Falk is/was Columbo. But, play the part Dirk did – and he did enough to earn a pat on the back (if I had been in his vicinity). Hell, he even smoked a cigar throughout – onstage! Now, I’ve got to assume they produce special ‘stage-cigars’ for that purpose?!? A stage cigar! Ha ha.
Columbo is one of my all time favourite shows. I can watch them endlessly. I have done in fact – since I was a boy. What you’ve got to understand is that good tv/film is like a good song. No-one says “Why are you listening to that song again? You’ve heard it before!”. But people will quite happily question why you’re watching a film for a second time. “You know how it ends! What’s the point?”. Wake up!!!
A song is a song. TV is TV. Film is film. Art is art. “Why are you looking at that Van Gogh again?… you already looked at it before 5 years ago. Remember? We were in Paris?”. Replace Van Gogh with any name you like and replace Paris with any place you like. The song remains the same. The score is always on the doors. The song doesn’t change… and yet people wouldn’t query why you had to listen to Sympathy for the Devil 1000 times over the course of your life. If a song can get you through the day then so can any other form of art. Horses for courses.
So… he mimics the mannerisms, wears the coat, holds the cigar, and even has the exact same moleskine notepad that I use to write my songs. And you know what… I don’t care! It’s a celebration of a character who will always be special to me, and a celebration of one of the greatest actors of all time (Falk not Benedict I stress!). The essence of Columbo is engrained so deep down in my soul that I have a constant urge to become a cigar smoker. But then the reality hits me. It stinks! I will curse the day when your common or garden 3D Holo-TV set comes with smell-o-vision.
I’m inspired by Columbo. The foundations of the show are so rock-solid. Reveal the murder and the murderer at the very start. Then dwell on the cat and mouse interplay between Columbo and the guest star. You see, no other TV show could pull off the trick up Columbo’s sleeve. If any other crime show ever had a ‘guest star’ (i.e. an actor you actually recognised) appearing in an episode… you knew it would have to be the murderer. Columbo thrived on this. You KNEW the guest star would be the murderer. And the ‘slowly slowly catchy monkey’ between Columbo and the killer would be TV gold.
It’s not necessarily about surprise. Or at least not surprise as presented in most other cop shows. The secret of Columbo is in the fine detail. What are the flaws in the criminal’s master plan? These people have all the time in the world to plan the perfect murder… but they ALWAYS slip up. There’s a great conversation in the play I saw tonight (Prescription Murder) where Columbo explains it in simple terms to the smart-alec suspect.
“You see, the murderer gets one chance. Just one chance to pull off the ‘perfect crime’… the ‘perfect murder’. But you see sir. this is my living. I get 100 of these a year. This is my bread and butter! And I’m good!”
I’ve written hundreds of songs in my time (well, tens anyway), and one thing holds true. You don’t always have to surprise. You can lay out the fundamentals of the song in the first few seconds. It’s not necessarily about finding out ‘what’ the song is, but rather the journey towards ‘why’ the song is. Music doesn’t just exist. It has been brought about for a reason. And that reason is far more important than the tricks used to ‘surprise’ you during the song. We’ve heard it all before. The new synth sound… new drum machines… new romantic, old romantic, three bags full romantic, punk, rock, indie, emo, acid, dubstep, folk, trance whatever whatever whatever. It’s all old news. It’s not about finding out who the murderer is, but all about how and why. Keep questioning. Don’t follow. An enquiring mind is where it’s at!
… just one more thing. I have published the new song. I changed the title to Reconstruct a Memory. It seems apt. You’re not supposed to feel you have to like it… more “do you understand why you should like it?”.